25 September 2017

Libya: Violent Clashes Rage On in Libya's Sabratha

Tripoli — The western Libyan city of Sabratha has witnessed violent clashes for a week between rival armed groups, which have caused dozens of casualties and forced residents to flee their homes.

Officials fear the violence might spread to nearby cities and towns, thus further complicating the worsening situation in the country.

Mohamed Abdullah, a parliament member, told Xinhua in a recent interview that the clashes erupted because of conflict between the army and militias as increasing domination of militias is making the army felt threatened.

The army started attacking strongholds of smugglers, with militias controlling the smuggling of people and fuel.

Anas al-Dabbashi's battalion of the city's military council, an outlawed militia that carries out smuggling activities, controls the entire western coast.

They have contacts with militias in neighboring cities, and possibly contact and finance terrorist groups. "The battalion has conducted intensive contacts with the government of national accord to obtain legitimacy to control the coast, in order to continue the smuggling activities." Abdullah added.

A month ago, the government of national accord held extensive meetings with the battalion to discuss granting it the command of the coast guards of Sabratha in return for the control rights of the coast to prevent the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean toward Europe, local media reported.

Meanwhile, Taher al-Gharabli, head of Sabratha's military council, said the two sides' refusal to reach a cease-fire has further complicated the situation in the city.

"We regard ourselves as a neutral party that wants to reconcile the two sides," al-Gharabli told Xinhua.

"We are not willing to bring the war back. We believe that the differences between the people of Sabratha must be resolved through dialogue," he added.

Abu-Elkasem Krer, a member of the dialogue and reconciliation committee of Sabratha, told Xinhua that reconciliation delegations from all cities of western Libya have come and gathered in Sabratha to urge the parties to cease fire.

Krer revealed an initiative for all parties of the conflict for a three-day cease-fire starting on Friday, which posed an opportunity to discuss all ideas for resolving the conflict "in a calm atmosphere for each party to hear the other's demands."

Krer noted that the anti-IS operation chamber had not opposed the three-day cease-fire proposal.

UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Thursday called for an immediate cease-fire in Sabratha.

"UNSMIL are deeply concerned about clashes in Sabratha and civilian casualties, and calls on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law," the mission said in a statement.

A military source of the operation chamber told Xinhua that "military reinforcements are coming from the neighboring city of Zawiya, trying to enter Sabratha to join the militias, and stop our progress to expel the militias."

The source revealed that clashes are expected to break out in the coming hours between forces of the towns of West Zawiya and Surman, which have declared opposing any forces' entry into Sabratha.

"The forces from Zawiya are trying to assist the besieged armed militias, as they are partners with human and fuel smugglers and are trying to protect the interests of smugglers. They are trying to stop the regular forces (anti-IS operation chamber) from expelling the militias that control Sabratha," the source said.

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